20 June 2016

Update on the Palestinian Water Crisis


Access to water is one of the most fundamental and least discussed issues underpinning the Israeli - Palestinian conflict (as well as the recurring pattern of Israel’s conflicts with Syria and Lebanon).  Control of the West Bank’s water resources is intimately tied into the growing pattern of the Israeli settlements in the West Bank and, if left unchecked, Israel’s inevitable annexation of Area C (60%) of the West Bank (thereby formalizing the Gazification of Areas A&B).   Water resources are also intimately woven into the pattern of destruction in Israel’s siege of the Gaza ghetto. 
Most Americans remain unaware of water’s central importance in this conflict. Yet a fair and equitable solution to this issue is a necessary albeit not sufficient condition for ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on terms that do not sow the seeds for future conflict. 
The parameters of the water question in the Jordan River Valley have been long understood, if ignored, by American policy makers (see the 1955 Johnston Plan and the Johnston Plan Revisited).  Indeed, in its current context, the these parameters reach back to the 3 February 1919 Zionist proposal to Versailles Peace Conference for a Jewish national home (do a word search for “water” and think about the implications of the highlighted text).  More generally, the history of access to water in this region reaches back to the dawn of civilization and the creation of agriculture.  The Jordan River drainage system (along with Lebanon’s surface water systems) together with the aquifers in the highlands of the West Bank (and of Lebanon) connect the two wings of the Fertile Crescent stretching from the Nile River system in the West to Tigris and Euphrates River systems in the East.  It is no accident that the location of one of the world’s oldest cities, the Palestinian canton of Jericho, was determined in large part by its access to the wells and springs in the center of this link.
I first became interested in this issue in 2001 (and did a subsequent, more extensive analysis in 2003 here).  Since 2001, the water question has worsened with each passing year, yet it still receives almost no attention in the mainstream media.  
The attached analysis by Camilla Corradin in Aljazeera is an excellent update of this steadily worsening question.  The links in her report are particularly important sources of information.  I urge readers to read the links as well as her essay.

Israel: Water as a tool to dominate Palestinians
Israel deliberately denies Palestinians control over their water sources and sets the ground for water domination.
Camilla Corradin, Aljazeera, 20 June 2016
Occupied West Bank - As temperatures rise and summer months approach, yet again this year, thousands of Palestinians in the occupied West Bank are being deprived of their most basic need - access to water - as the Israeli national water company Mekorot restricted the water supply to villages and towns in northern West Bank.
Although extremely worrying for the livelihood and health impact on the affected tens of thousands of Palestinians, this comes to little surprise.
Since it occupied the West Bank in 1967, Israel has laid hands on Palestinian water resources through discriminatory water-sharing agreements that prevented Palestinians from maintaining or developing their water infrastructure through its illegal planning and permit regime. As a result, thousands of Palestinians are unable to access sufficient water supplies and became water-dependent on Israel.
By building on the myth of a water-scarce region - Ramallah has more rainfall than London - Israel has deliberately denied Palestinians control over their water resources and successfully set the ground for water domination, granting itself a further tool to exercise its hegemony over the occupied population and territory.


Palestinian water resources in the West Bank wouldn't be scarce - they include the Jordan River, running all along the eastern border of the West Bank, and the Mountain Aquifer underlying the West Bank and Israel. Both water resources are transboundary - meaning that, by international law, they should be shared in an equitable and reasonable manner by Israel and Palestine.
Yet, since Israel took over the West Bank in 1967, Israel has remained in near full control over Palestinian water resources in the West Bank.
Israel fully prevents Palestinians from accessing the Jordan River and using its water. As for the Mountain Aquifer, the 1995 Oslo II interim agreement - which also defined the water-sharing arrangements between Palestine and Israel - came to consolidate the Israeli control that had been in place since 1967.
Israel was granted access to over 71 percent of the aquifer water, while Palestinians were only granted 17 percent. While the agreement was supposed to last five years only, 20 years later, it is still in place.
Water-sharing agreement discussions are left to the long-awaited final status negotiations.
While the Palestinian population of the West Bank has almost doubled since, allocations have remained capped at 1995 levels. Today, Palestinians have access to less water than they were granted by the already-inequitable Oslo agreements: 13 percent, with Israel abstracting the remaining 87.
Indeed, as pointed out by the World Bank in its 2009 report about the water sector in Palestine, due to the dual Israeli permit regime, Palestinians have been unable to maintain and develop their water infrastructure.
In Palestinian wells where the water table has dropped, for instance, the Israeli restrictions on drilling, deepening and rehabilitation have made the wells un-usable and Palestinian water abstraction levels decline.
On the one hand, Palestinian water projects all over the West Bank need an approval by the Joint Water Committee (JWC), where Israel has a de facto veto power. Only 56 percent of Palestinian projects regarding water and sanitation were granted permits by the JWC (against a near 100 percent approval rate for the Israeli projects), and only one-third of those could actually be implemented.
Concerned by the asymmetry in the JWC functioning, Palestinians have refused to sit in the committee since 2010.
In addition to the JWC approval, all projects in Area C also require a permit by the Israeli Civil Administration (ICA), which are notoriously difficult to obtain. As reported by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the ICA has refused between 2010 and 2014 98.5 percent of the Palestinian building permit applications for Area C projects.
Over 50 water and sanitation structures have been demolished by Israel since the beginning of 2016 already (more than in the entire 2015) on grounds that they were lacking the Israeli permits.
Israel's claims that the failing water infrastructure is the cause of the water cuts in the West Bank fail to acknowledge that the poor infrastructure is a direct result of the Israeli permit regime in the West Bank.
The lack of water and other basic services resulting from Israeli policies has created a coercive environment that often leaves Palestinians with no choice but to leave their communities in Area C, allowing Israel's land takeover and further expansion of its settlements.
But as recent events have shown, Areas A and B are not safe havens either. Due to the lack of sufficient water resources available, Palestine heavily depends on water bought from Mekorot (18.5 percent in 2014). Ironically, this is water that Israel takes from the rightful Palestinian share - which they are denied - before selling it back to them.
This has granted Israel further control over Palestinian access to water. As soon as water demand increases in the hot spring and summer months, supplies to settlements are privileged over Palestinian areas in the West Bank.
Every year, water supply to Palestinian towns and villages is cut off for days - if not weeks - during which Palestinians are forced to buy trucked water at five times the price of network water - as well as reduce their already low consumption.
Water consumption figures are telling: While Israelis have access to around 240 litres of water per person per day, and settlers over 300, Palestinians in the West Bank are left with 73 litres - well below the World Health Organization's minimum standard of 100.
OCHA report that in Area C, where 180 Palestinian communities are not connected to the water network and 122 have a connection with no or irregular supply as a result of Israeli restrictions, water consumption can drop to 20 litres of water per person per day as people have to buy expensive trucked water.
Here, vulnerable households spend up to one-fifth of their salary on water.
For instance, while people in the Palestinian community of al-Hadidiya in the northern Jordan Valley have access to as little as 20 litres of water per person per day - settlers in the neighbouring settlement of Ro'i enjoy 460 litres of water per person for domestic use only, a swimming pool and flourishing agriculture.
Israel, as the occupying power has an obligation under international humanitarian law to ensure the dignity and wellbeing of the population under its control.
This includes obligations regarding the provision of and access to humanitarian relief and basic services, including water and sanitation.
Not only is Israel failing to provide for such basic needs. Its discriminatory water policies also prove that Israel is using water as a tool to dominate Palestinians, exercise its power, and punish an entire population by deliberately depriving its inhabitants the most basic of rights.

Camilla Corradin is advocating for Palestinian water rights with the EWASH NGOs coalitio

17 June 2016

Why Are Defense Policy Wonks So Ineffectual?


“People say the Pentagon does not have a strategy.  They are wrong; the Pentagon does have a strategy.  It is: Don’t interrupt the money flow, add to it.”
Fighter pilot
Aircraft designer
Strategist

Today, America’s foreign policy is a shambles.  Its primary features are (1) a perpetual war on terror, and (2) the seemingly inevitable march into a new and unnecessary cold war against Russia and China.  At the same time, President Obama is leaving his successor with a budget plan containing a front loaded and political engineered* procurement bow wave that guarantees steeply rising defense expenditures well into the next decade and possibly beyond.  Such long term increases in the defense budget can only be justified by a new cold war.  Yet the United States now spends far more on the military than any other country.  Add in the expenditures of our allies, and the spending advantage over any conceivable combination of adversaries becomes overwhelming.   Nevertheless, US citizens are more fearful than they were during the Cold War, and politicians and the yellow journalism of the mainstream media are hyping those fears to a greater extent than they did during the Cold War.
What is going on?  
Most pundits and policy makers who debate this dismal state of affairs subscribe to the view that fixing foreign policy is the first step toward getting control of the Pentagon and ultimately reducing defense budgets. 
In their view, the top priority should be to re-define our foreign policy goals (hopefully in accordance with the criteria for a sensible grand strategy, although these criteria are seldom examined in a systematic way).  The redefined grand strategic goals would then form a basis for defining a rational military strategy to meet these goals.  Once the strategy is settled upon by the policy elites, the drones in the Pentagon can define the force structure to meet the strategy.  That force structure would then provide the template against which the budgeteers can define the budget decisions needed to build and maintain the forces necessary to execute the strategy.  QED.
This neat comforting top-down viewpoint conveys the illusion of control.   It plays well in the high brow salons of Versailles on the Potomac, the halls of Congress, and among the elitist pundocracy in the mainstream media and the ivory tower think tanks of Washington. But history shows this logic does not work.
The logic has been repeated ad nauseam by policy wonks on the left and right since the dawn of the Cold War in 1950.  Yet for all their handwringing about strategy-budget mismatches, the policy wonks refuse to recognize the obvious:  Since 1962, the Pentagon’s formal planning system — the Planning, Programming, and Budgeting System (PPBS) — is a set of bureaucratic procedures designed precisely in accordance with their sacred top-down logic.  Yet the PPBS has failed repeatedly to link budgets to forces and strategy (for reasons I explained here and here).  The simple-minded idea that foreign policy (i.e., grand strategy) drives strategy and shapes force structures and budgets simply does not work in the real world.  And the reason is fundamental: the Military - Industrial - Congressional Complex (MICC) is not a top-down mechanistic phenomenon that responds predictably to this kind of naive control theory.  
The MICC is more accurately thought of as a synthetic (bottom-up) living culture that creates its own political-economic ecology.  Part of that ecology is the MICC’s corrupting effects on domestic politics.  President Eisenhower’s prophetic warning about the rise of misplaced power hinted at but did not delve into the reasons for the living nature of this political-economic ecology.  It is now fifty-four years later, and the MICC has evolved into a deeply entrenched, bewildering variety of ever changing  goal-seeking factions, each fighting for money and power in a game of very messy domestic politics.  These factions are loosely self-organized (via revolving doors, for example) into iron triangles that grow and decay over time.  
These factions compete with each other or make temporary alliances of convenience in their efforts to acquire money and power (as I explained here, here, and here).  Put another way, the MICC is fundamentally a bottom-up living, evolving political-economic organism, and it produces its own peculiar ecology.  It is made up of self-organizing factions in which the pursuit of each faction’s individual goals create combined effects that can be thought of as the MICC’s emergent properties.  There is simply no way the sterile top-down logic described above can cope with the MICC’s ever-evolving power games and unpredictable work arounds.  The output of the game is summed up pithily by Boyd’s quote, and the MICCs players are now hell bent on starting a new Cold War as the only way to achieve its factional ambitions.  We will not fix this problem posed by the MICC until we come to grips with its elemental nature.
Attached is a recent essay by my good friend Andrew Cockburn.  Andrew brilliantly elaborates on Boyd’s point and the apparent disconnect between strategy and budgets. I say “apparent disconnect” because the MICC has a real strategy, and like all effective strategies, it is not obvious.  
---------------
* Front loading and political engineering are explained in my 1990 pamphlet Defense Power Games.

Chuck Spinney 
---------------------------

The Pentagon’s Real $trategy: Keeping the Money Flowing
Posted by Andrew Cockburn, TomDispatch, at 7:28am, June 16, 2016.
[Reposted with Permission of the Author]
These days, lamenting the apparently aimless character of Washington’s military operations in the Greater Middle East has become conventional wisdom among administration critics of every sort. Senator John McCain thunders that “this president has no strategy to successfully reverse the tide of slaughter and mayhem” in that region. Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies bemoans the “lack of a viable and public strategy.” Andrew Bacevich suggests that “there is no strategy. None. Zilch.”
After 15 years of grinding war with no obvious end in sight, U.S. military operations certainly deserve such obloquy. But the pundit outrage may be misplaced. Focusing on Washington rather than on distant war zones, it becomes clear that the military establishment does indeed have a strategy, a highly successful one, which is to protect and enhance its own prosperity.
Given this focus, creating and maintaining an effective fighting force becomes a secondary consideration, reflecting a relative disinterest -- remarkable to outsiders -- in the actual business of war, as opposed to the business of raking in dollars for the Pentagon and its industrial and political partners. A key element of the strategy involves seeding the military budget with “development” projects that require little initial outlay but which, down the line, grow irreversibly into massive, immensely profitable production contracts for our weapons-making cartels.
If this seems like a startling proposition, consider, for instance, the Air Force’s determined and unyielding efforts to jettison the A-10 Thunderbolt, widely viewed as the most effective means for supporting troops on the ground, while ardently championing the sluggish, vastly overpriced F-35 Joint Strike Fighter that, among myriad other deficiencies, cannot fly within 25 miles of a thunderstorm. No less telling is the Navy’s ongoing affection for budget-busting programs such as aircraft carriers, while maintaining its traditional disdain for the unglamorous and money-poor mission of minesweeping, though the mere threat of enemy mines in the 1991 Gulf War (as in the Korean War decades earlier) stymied plans for major amphibious operations. Examples abound across all the services.  
Meanwhile, ongoing and dramatic programs to invest vast sums in meaningless, useless, or superfluous weapons systems are the norm. There is no more striking example of this than current plans to rebuild the entire American arsenal of nuclear weapons in the coming decades, Obama's staggering bequest to the budgets of his successors.
Taking Nuclear Weapons to the Bank 
These nuclear initiatives have received far less attention than they deserve, perhaps because observers are generally loath to acknowledge that the Cold War and its attendant nuclear terrors, supposedly consigned to the ashcan of history a quarter-century ago, are being revived on a significant scale. The U.S. is currently in the process of planning for the construction of a new fleet of nuclear submarines loaded with new intercontinental nuclear missiles, while simultaneously creating a new land-based intercontinental missile, a new strategic nuclear bomber, a new land-and-sea-based tactical nuclear fighter plane, a new long-range nuclear cruise missile (which, as recently as 2010, the Obama administration explicitly promised not to develop), at least three nuclear warheads that are essentially new designs, and new fuses for existing warheads. In addition, new nuclear command-and-control systems are under development for a fleet of satellites (costing up to $1 billion each) designed to make the business of fighting a nuclear war more practical and manageable.  
This massive nuclear buildup, routinely promoted under the comforting rubric of “modernization,” stands in contrast to the president’s lofty public ruminations on the topic of nuclear weapons. The most recent of these was delivered during his visit -- the first by an American president -- to Hiroshima last month. There, he urged “nations like my own that hold nuclear stockpiles” to “have the courage to escape the logic of fear, and pursue a world without them.”
In reality, that “logic of fear” suggests that there is no way to “fight” a nuclear war, given the unforeseeable but horrific effects of these immensely destructive weapons.  They serve no useful purpose beyond deterring putative opponents from using them, for which an extremely limited number would suffice. During the Berlin crisis of 1961, for example, when the Soviets possessed precisely four intercontinental nuclear missiles, White House planners seriously contemplated launching an overwhelming nuclear strike on the USSR.  It was, they claimed, guaranteed to achieve “victory.” As Fred Kaplan recounts in his book Wizards of Armageddon, the plan’s advocates conceded that the Soviets might, in fact, be capable of managing a limited form of retaliation with their few missiles and bombers in which as many as three million Americans could be killed, whereupon the plan was summarily rejected.
In other words, in the Cold War as today, the idea of “nuclear war-fighting” could not survive scrutiny in a real-world context. Despite this self-evident truth, the U.S. military has long been the pioneer in devising rationales for fighting such a war via ever more “modernized” weapons systems. Thus, when first introduced in the early 1960s, the Navy’s invulnerable Polaris-submarine-launched intercontinental missiles -- entirely sufficient in themselves as a deterrent force against any potential nuclear enemy -- were seen within the military as an attack on Air Force operations and budgets. The Air Force responded by conceiving and successfully selling the need for a full-scale, land-based missile force as well, one that could more precisely target enemy missiles in what was termed a “counterforce” strategy.
The drive to develop and build such systems on the irrational pretense that nuclear war fighting is a practical proposition persists today.  One component of the current “modernization” plan is the proposed development of a new “dial-a-yield” version of the venerable B-61 nuclear bomb. Supposedly capable of delivering explosions of varying strength according to demand, this device will, at least theoretically, be guidable to its target with high degrees of accuracy and will also be able to burrow deep into the earth to destroy buried bunkers. The estimated bill -- $11 billion -- is a welcome boost for the fortunes of the Sandia and Los Alamos weapons laboratories that are developing it. 
The ultimate cost of this new nuclear arsenal in its entirety is essentially un-knowable. The only official estimate we have so far came from the Congressional Budget Office, which last year projected a total of $350 billion. That figure, however, takes the “modernization” program only to 2024 -- before, that is, most of the new systems move from development to actual production and the real bills for all of this start thudding onto taxpayers’ doormats. This year, for instance, the Navy is spending a billion and a half dollars in research and development funds on its new missile submarine, known only as the SSBN(X). Between 2025 and 2035, however, annual costs for that program are projected to run at $10 billion a year. Similar escalations are in store for the other items on the military’s impressive nuclear shopping list. 
Assiduously tabulating these projections, experts at the Monterey Center for Nonproliferation Studies peg the price of the total program at a trillion dollars. In reality, though, the true bill that will come due over the next few decades will almost certainly be multiples of that. For example, the Air Force has claimed that its new B-21 strategic bombers will each cost more than $564 million (in 2010 dollars), yet resolutely refuses to release its secret internal estimates for the ultimate cost of the program. 
To offer a point of comparison, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the tactical nuclear bomber previously mentioned, was originally touted as costing no more than $35 million per plane. In fact, it will actually enter service with a sticker price well in excess of $200 million.  
Nor does that trillion-dollar figure take into account the inevitable growth of America’s nuclear “shield.” Nowadays, the excitement and debate once generated by President Ronald Reagan’s “Star Wars” scheme to build a defense system of anti-missile missiles and other devices against a nuclear attack is long gone. (The idea for such a defense, in fact, dates back to the 1950s, but Reagan boosted it to prominence.) Nevertheless, missile defense still routinely soaks up some $10 billion of our money annually, even though it is known to have no utility whatsoever. 
“We have nothing to show for it,” Tom Christie, the former director of the Pentagon’s testing office, told me recently. “None of the interceptors we currently have in silos waiting to shoot down enemy missiles have ever worked in tests.” Even so, the U.S. is busy constructing more anti-missile bases across Eastern Europe. As our offensive nuclear programs are built up in the years to come, almost certainly eliciting a response from Russia and China, the pressure for a costly expansion of our nuclear “defenses” will surely follow.
The Bow-Wave Strategy 
It’s easy enough to find hypocrisy in President Obama’s mellifluous orations on abolishing nuclear weapons given the trillion-dollar-plus nuclear legacy he will leave in his wake. The record suggests, however, that faced with the undeviating strategic thinking of the military establishment and its power to turn desires into policy, he has simply proven as incapable of altering the Washington system as his predecessors in the Oval Office were or as his successors are likely to be. 
Inside the Pentagon, budget planners and weapons-buyers talk of the “bow wave,” referring to the process by which current research and development initiatives, initially relatively modest in cost, invariably lock in commitments to massive spending down the road. Traditionally, such waves start to form at times when the military is threatened with possible spending cutbacks due to the end of a war or some other budgetary crisis.
Former Pentagon analyst Franklin “Chuck” Spinney, who spent years observing and chronicling the phenomenon from the inside, recalls an early 1970s bow wave at a time when withdrawal from Vietnam appeared to promise a future of reduced defense spending. The military duly put in place an ambitious “modernization” program for new planes, ships, tanks, satellites, and missiles. Inevitably, when it came time to actually buy all those fancy new systems, there was insufficient money in the defense budget. 
Accordingly, the high command cut back on spending for “readiness”; that is, for maintaining existing weapons in working order, training troops, and similar mundane activities. This had the desired effect -- at least from the point of view of Pentagon -- of generating a raft of media and congressional horror stories about the shocking lack of preparedness of our fighting forces and the urgent need to boost its budget. In this way, the hapless Jimmy Carter, elected to the presidency on a promise to rein in defense spending, found himself, in Spinney’s phrase, "mousetrapped," and eventually unable to resist calls for bigger military budgets. 
This pattern would recur at the beginning of the 1990s when the Soviet Union imploded and the Cold War superpower military confrontation seemed at an end.  The result was the germination of ultimately budget-busting weapons systems like the Air Force’s F-35 and F-22 fighters. It happened again when pullbacks from Iraq and Afghanistan in Obama’s first term led to mild military spending cuts. As Spinney points out, each successive bow wave crests at a higher level, while military budget cuts due to wars ending and the like become progressively more modest. 
The latest nuclear buildup is only the most glaring and egregious example of the present bow wave that is guaranteed to grow to monumental proportions long after Obama has retired to full-time speechmaking. The cost of the first of the Navy’s new Ford Class aircraft carriers, for example, has already grown by 20% to $13 billion with more undoubtedly to come. The “Third Offset Strategy,” a fantasy-laden shopping list of robot drones and “centaur” (half-man, half-machine) weapons systems, assiduously touted by Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work, is similarly guaranteed to expand stunningly beyond the $3.6 billion allotted to its development next year.  
Faced with such boundlessly ambitious raids on the public purse, no one should claim a “lack of strategy” as a failing among our real policymakers, even if all that planning has little or nothing to do with distant war zones where Washington’s conflicts smolder relentlessly on.  
Andrew Cockburn is the Washington editor of Harper’s Magazine. An Irishman, he has covered national security topics in this country for many years. In addition to numerous books, he co-produced the 1997 feature film The Peacemaker and the 2009 documentary on the financial crisis, American Casino. His latest book is Kill Chain: The Rise of the High-Tech Assassins (just out in paperback). 
Copyright 2016 Andrew Cockburn

10 June 2016

OODA Loops, the War of 1812, and the Evolution of the Star Wars Mentality


Attached below is a fascinating book review by Professor Andrew Lambert describing naval combat in the Chesapeake Bay during the War of 1812 (map). Most people think of the Royal Navy of the Nelson era as one of conducting great sea battles, like the battles of Trafalgar or Cape St. Vincent.  But one of the Royal Navy’s great strengths during the Nelson era was creating strategic effects on land and sea by combining blockading with coastal raiding.  Admiral George Cockburn's Chesapeake campaign of 1813-14 is a case in point.  It had enormous ramifications, the rumblings of which can still be felt insensibly in the halls of the Pentagon.

Note especially Lambert's casual reference to Adm. Cockburn operating inside the Americans' decision cycle.  Readers of this blog have seen this phrase many times.

One interesting aspect of this casual reference is that it was written by a British naval historian at King’s College, London; and it is written in a way that assumes the idea of operating inside a decision cycle is common knowledge.  The use of the modifier “inside” is clearly an oblique reference to the strategic theories of the American strategist Col. John Boyd, which are centered on his conception of how the Observation - Orientation - Decision - Action (OODA) Loop acts in conflict situations.   Of course, Lambert makes no reference to Boyd or his brilliant and original insights regarding the inherent vulnerabilities in everyone's OODA Loop.  Nevertheless, Lambert’s examples of American disorientation are consistent with the vulnerabilities predicted by Boyd’s theory.  Lambert’s essay is also an excellent albeit inadvertent example illustrating the success of Boyd's goal of infiltrating his ideas into conversations about strategy without publishing those ideas.  (Boyd and I often discussed this infiltration strategy to shape one’s Orientation over the years, usually when I pleaded with him to publish his work.)

Professor Lambert's cryptic comment about the legacy of Cockburn’s Chesapeake campaign as creating an American obsession with building immense coastal defense fortifications is insightful and suggests Cockburn’s penetration of the American decision cycle had profound and long lasting effects.  Unfortunately, Lambert does not probe the ramifications of this proposition.

That legacy was a 51-year spending spree for the “third system” of 42 fortresses, eventually reaching from Maine to California, to defend American ports from future Cockburns.  This program commenced in 1816, shortly after the War of 1812 ended, and lasted until 1867.  Construction expenditures (from congressional appropriations) continued until at least 1875, well after the forts were proven to have very limited strategic benefits, to put it charitably.  The US Army continued spending money on coastal defense artillery until the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and WWII put an end to the foolishness. (These forts were not the only example of the pioneering role that the War of 1812 had in creating military-industrial-congressional boondoggles -- see John Steel Gordon's hilarious account of how the Navy's ships of the line program, started in 1816, also established long lasting pork barreling precedents in American shipbuilding.)   

The spending boondoggles on coastal defense can be thought of as a 19th Century equivalent to today's obsession with ballistic missile defense.  Like Star Wars (and France's Maginot Line), the shield posed by defensive fortress technologies could not keep up with the sword posed by the evolving offensive technologies, like rapid fire, large caliber, rifled artillery.  Nevertheless, like Star Wars, the money kept flowing into these monuments to man’s foolishness.

The Corps of Engineers, for example, even built a second fort in Baltimore harbor, Fort Carroll.  Construction began in 1848, and the chief engineer was Robert E. Lee.  Ft Carroll is down river from Fort McHenry (which withstood Cockburn’s bombardment) and Fort Carroll still stands, never used in combat, overgrown with weeds, and not worth converting into a monument — even plans to convert Fort Carroll into a casino were scrubbed.  A few of these forts saw action in the Civil War but not in the way intended.  Most fell easily after being bombarded by land forces: e.g., Fort Sumpter surrendered after 24 hrs of bombardment; Fort Pulaski in Savannah surrendered after only 30 hrs of shore bombardment; and Fort Macon in Beaufort, NC surrendered after only 11 hrs of bombardment. These actions had nothing to do with coastal defense against foreign enemies.  Ironclad warships and the far greater lethality of rifled cannon technologies revealed the uselessness of these fortresses in the Civil War, but construction of the forts continued after the Civil War.  Even after they fell into disuse, many were re-armed and re-manned to deter the non-existent threat posed by the Spanish Navy during the Spanish-American War.   

My favorite is Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas, about 70 miles west of Key West.  It the largest of these fortresses. Under construction for nearly thirty years (1846-1875), like Ballistic Missile Defense, it was never finished nor fully armed.  Yet to this to this day, the US government claims that Fort Jefferson as a powerful deterrent that protected the peace and prosperity of our young nation.  This characterization is utter nonsense: America was indeed young, but it was hardly vulnerable after the Civil War.  America emerged from the Civil War as one of, if not the largest industrial power(s) in the World.  America also had the world’s most battle hardened and capable leaders, particularly at the operational and strategic level of combat. If the Union army under Grant, Sherman, and Sheridan had opposed the Prussian Army of 1871 in France, it is very unlikely that Grant et al would have allowed the Germans to recover from their initial mistakes at the outset of the Franco-Prussian War.  America also evolved some of the world’s most advanced weapons and Naval technologies that made the wooden sailing ships of the Royal Navy obsolete. The idea that Great Britain, Imperial Germany, or Japan could have repeated anything like Admiral Cockburn’s capers in the Chesapeake after the American Civil War is simply inconceivable. 

Fort Jefferson is no longer in use as a military facility and is currently part of the Dry Tortugas National Park.

source: wikipedia

However, Fort Jefferson was not entirely useless.  It did make a dandy prison for Union deserters during the Civil War and later for Dr. Samuel Mudd, the physician who treated John Wilkes Booth’s broken leg. Fort Alcatraz in San Francisco Bay also made a dandy prison.  And today, Fort Jefferson is a great cruising destination and a useful harbor of refuge for sailors intent on exploring the Gulf of Mexico or the delights of Havana. 



Posted on December 1, 2010
Book Review
Donald G. Shomette, Flotilla: The Patuxent Naval Campaign in the War of 1812, The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009. 520 pp., illustrations, maps, line drawings.
Review by Andrew Lambert, International Journal of Naval History
King’s College, London
Originally published in 1981 a revised and enlarged edition of this essential volume will be a major contribution to the bicentenary literature of the War of 1812. From his initial search for the archaeology of an abandoned gunboat flotilla in the shallows of the Patuxent River Donald Shomette has become the historian of Commodore Joshua Barney and his mosquito force.
By 1813 the war with Britain , essayed so lightly only a year earlier, had turned sour. Humiliating defeats on the Canadian border had been temporarily assuaged by stunning naval successes, but as Royal Navy forces on the coast steadily built up Americans came to recognise the reality of taking on the Leviathan of the deep. Although the British were fighting for their very existence against Napoleon they were determined to defend Canada , and the oceanic commerce that funded their war. They had no desire to wage war with America , and had no plans to re-conquer the old colonies. They wanted to secure peace with minimum effort. With the Army tied up in Spain they were unable to provide a significant military force, relying on the Royal Navy to translate sea control into effect on land, to shift from naval to maritime strategy.
With small, agile forces the British would practise intelligence-led warfare, relying on an uncontrolled American print media, and the willingness of many men to take the King’s gold. Already well informed of the bitter sectional divisions between Republican and Federalist politics the British carefully chose targets that would influence the administration. The rich tidewater region of Chesapeake Bay, close to the new national capitol, and the main privateer base at Baltimore , produced the export crops of the very men who had voted for war. By striking here the British hoped to take the pressure off the Canadian frontier. The destruction of public and private buildings in the Canadian towns of York and Dover provided an occasion for punitive measures.
In the summer of 1813, with the Royal Navy running riot along the Maryland tidewater, Barney, a Revolutionary war hero, and a successful privateer skipper, proposed building a flotilla of shallow draft gunboats, 50 or 75 feet long, to exploit local knowledge and challenge the British in areas where heavy sailing ships could not operate. The U.S. Flotilla Service was created to operate these craft, with Barney in command. In 1814 Barney and his men, less than a thousand all told, would be the only effective forces placed between the British and the civilians of the area. When the British landed local gentlemen tried to save their estates, but militia units generally ran away, as did many the slaves. Many former slaves joined the British as ‘Colonial Marines’, proving themselves good soldiers, and local experts. By contrast to the part-time soldiers Barney’s Flotilla attacked the enemy, and when cornered put up a hard fight. Much of the credit must go to Barney, a resourceful, brave and professional leader. The actions of the Flotilla, and of the flotillamen ashore at Bladensburg provided a heroic contrast to the endemic ineptitude of their military counterparts.
Making all allowance for the professed subject, the real hero of this book is Rear Admiral Sir George Cockburn. A protégé of the immortal Nelson, and a veteran of twenty years of war at sea and on the littoral, Cockburn combined vast experience with an incisive intellect and a brilliant grasp of the higher direction of war. Without a single soldier his 1814 campaign ripped aside the tissue thin veil of American defence, exposing the Government, capital and army to humiliation. Lacking the resources to tackle the major ports, Baltimore , Norfolk and Annapolis , he relied on a tiny naval raiding force to keep the enemy guessing. The British offensive targeted American weakness, incessant raids kept the militia moving, provided a plentiful supply of fresh food, water, lumber to build a fortified base on Tangier Island , and hogsheads of tobacco to generate the prize money that kept sailors interested. When an army of less than 5,000 men finally arrived, Cockburn cajoled his superior officer and the commanding General into a stunning stroke that left Barney’s gunboats, Washington and the Navy Yard in ashes. His campaign should be taught at every Staff College . There is no better example of maritime strategy at work; flexible, quick, and always operating inside the enemy’s decision-making cycle. Cockburn planned the whole campaign to distract and demoralise the enemy, gather vital navigational intelligence and build up for a dramatic conclusion that would teach the enemy not to attack the British, even when they were at war with Napoleon. The legacy of those campaigns would be the immense stone fortifications that surrounded every significant American port. If vituperation be any measure of a man’s impact on his foes then George Cockburn must have been a titan. No insult was too scurrilous to be published. He took his revenge quietly, his official portrait, reproduced on page 126, shows him ashore, with spurs on his boots, the public buildings of Washington ablaze in the distance. In 1832 Cockburn was sent to command the American station, just as a border dispute threatened the fragile Anglo-American peace. Roger Morriss’s 1997 biography of this amphibious expert would have been a useful addition to the bibliography. At page 232 Cockburn’s Commander in Chief in 1814, Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane, is conflated with his more famous nephew, Thomas, Lord Cochrane, the model for every fictional Royal Navy hero of the Nelson era from Marryatt to O’Brien. While he lacked Cockburn’s local expertise Sir Alexander was also an amphibious warfare expert, having overseen assault landing at Aboukir in 1801 and other major disembarkations.
Based on a wealth of primary evidence Flotilla is a delight to read, carefully crafted and nicely paced, mixing telling human interventions from key players with analysis of the unfolding drama. The illustrations, contemporary drawings, portraits and modern maps are ideally placed to illustrate and explain the flotilla craft, personalities and operations. This will be an essential text for students of the war, and of maritime strategy. Barney’s gunboats did well, but they had no answer to Cockburn’s squadron

27 May 2016

Ignoring the Past is Good for the MICC’s Business


Why We Should Not Question the Decision to Drop the Atomic Bombs on Japan

[also posted by Consortium New as New Nucs for a New Cold War]

With the passage of time, the decision to drop the atomic bombs on Hiroshima (a uranium bomb) and Nagasaki (a plutonium bomb) in August of 1945 has become more controversial among historians but not in the public mind.  Was the destruction of these two low priority targets necessary to end the war with the Japan?

In 1945 and thereafter, beginning with the Truman Administration, politicians and milcrats convinced the public that bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki ended the war quickly and thereby saved American and Japanese lives.  Against the background of the brutality and racism of the Pacific War — and especially the just completed battles of Okinawa and Iwo Jima, and the overwhelming psychological effects of the Kamikazes — this justification was easy to believe by those troops designated for the invasion of Japan* as well as by a public anxious to end the war. And this belief has lingered thru the years, largely unquestioned.   But the story of the decision to drop the bomb is far more complicated than this simple argument suggests.  

One of the world’s leading historians of Truman's decision to drop the bomb, Gar Alperovitz, recently sat down with journalist Andrew Cockburn to discuss these complexities (attached below).

The question addressed by Alperovitz and Cockburn is more than a idle historical curiosity.  Alperovitz hints as much in the last pregnant paragraph of his interview.  President Obama’s administration is planting the seed money for an across-the-board-modernization of nuclear weapons, delivery systems, and support systems that will cost at least a trillion dollars (more likely $2-3 trillion, IMO) over the next 15-30 years.  While its details are shrouded in secrecy, public information is oozing out (e.g. see this link).  Present information now suggests this program includes: a new ballistic missile launching submarine; a new strategic bomber; a new land based intercontinental missile; a new air launched cruise missile; modernization of and adding precision guidance to the B-61 “dial-a-yield gravity bomb; modernization of strategic ballistic missile warheads; upgrades to the sea launched ballistic missiles; a massive upgrade to the surveillance, reconnaissance,  command, control, and communications systems needed to manage nuclear warfighting; continuation and upgrades to ballistic missile defense systems (rationale: gotta have a “shield" to protect the aforementioned “swords”); modernization of the nuclear weapons laboratory infrastructure; and the increasingly demanding problem of nuclear weapons facilities cleanup (e.g. Hanford).  

This bow wave will unfold in the highly evolved nature of the domestic politics driving defense spending -- i.e., the domestic operations of the Military-Industrial-Congressional Complex (MICC) -- as I described in The Domestic Roots of Perpetual War.  History shows the golden cornucopia of this nuc "bow wave” of programs will quickly evolve into an unstoppable tsunami of front loaded and politically engineered contracts and subcontracts that will grow over time to overwhelm and paralyze future Presidents and Congresses for the next 20-30 years.*** 

The only way such a modernization program can be justified is to concoct some kind of 21st Century nuclear warfighting scenario and to use the rubric of a new Cold War against a nuclear armed competitor — read Russia or China or both — to terrorize the public into paying the bill.  

Which brings us back to the logic of bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Attached beneath the end notes is Cockburn's** short but incisive interview with Alperovitz.

————
* It is hard to overestimate the immediate and lasting appeal of the government’s line to people of all political persuasions: One of my dearest friends, for example, was an anti-tank gunner in the 95th Infantry Division during WWII.  While in Germany in 1945, he was notified that he would be redeploying to the Pacific for the invasion of Japan.  My friend was an extreme liberal with a WWII enlisted GI's contempt for the conduct of war; he believed the military leadership was incompetent; and that carried over to his vehement opposition to the Viet Nam War.  But 50 years later he still vociferously defended the decision to drop the atomic bombs.  His reasoning was simple and heartfelt and honest: he had enough of fighting the Germans and wanted to go home and be done with the madness.

** Caveat: Andrew Cockburn is a close friend of 35 years, so I am biased. 

***  This kind of budget time bomb has happened at least twice before in the non-nuclear part of the defense budget: The first began when the Nixon-Ford Administration planted the seeds of defense budget hysteria by starting a bow wave of new modernization programs, financed in the short term by readiness and force structure reductions in early-to-mid 1970s.  These reductions led to budget pressures that exploded in the late 1970s and 1980s when President Carter began growing the defense budget and President Reagan accelerated that growth.  The game repeated itself in the late 1980s thru the mid-1990s, when Presidents Bush and Clinton planted the seeds for future budget growth, that would metastasize in the late 1990s. That bow wave was subsequently power boosted and masked somewhat by hysteria accompanying 9-11, but it used the same formula of cutting readiness and force structure in the short term to finance the planting of the bow wave of modernization programs.  And now, history is repeating itself for a third time.  This can be seen in the spate of recent hysterical and misbegotten reports (e.g., typical example) about how the relatively modest budget cutbacks from 2010 in the Pentagon’s "base budget" have caused today’s modernization crises, readiness shortfalls, etc.  Now add the full scale nuclear tsunami to this limited description of the Obama bow wave and the pressure to grow future budgets justified by a new cold war will become unstoppable.


Unjust Cause
Historian Gar Alperovitz on the decision to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki
By Andrew Cockburn, Harpers, 25 May 2016
President Obama is about to visit the Japanese city of Hiroshima, where on August 6, 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb that killed 140,000 people. Earlier this month, Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes wrote on Medium.com that “the President will shine a spotlight on the tremendous and devastating human toll of war.” But the White House has also made clear that the president has no intention of apologizing. Seventy years after World War II, it seems the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki are still a matter for evasion, justified by U.S. officials as the only way to end the war and save American lives. If Obama sticks to this script, his speech won’t amount to much more than Donald Rumsfeld’s “stuff happens.” To fill in Obama’s preannounced omissions, I turned to the historian Gar Alperovitz. His 1995 book The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb and the Architecture of An American Myth is the most definitive account we are likely to see of why Hiroshima was destroyed, and how an official history justifying that decision was subsequently crafted and promulgated by the national security establishment. As he explained, the bomb not only failed to save Americans lives, it might actually have caused the needless deaths of thousands of U.S. servicemen.
Let’s start with the basic question: was it necessary to drop the bomb on Hiroshima in order to compel Japanese surrender and thereby save American lives?                      
Absolutely not. At least, every bit of evidence we have strongly indicates not only that it was unnecessary, but that it was known at the time to be unnecessary. That was the opinion of top intelligence officials and top military leaders. There was intelligence, beginning in April of 1945 and reaffirmed month after month right up to the Hiroshima bombing, that the war would end when the Russians entered [and that] the Japanese would surrender so long as the emperor was retained, at least in an honorary role. The U.S. military had already decided [it wanted] to keep the emperor because they wanted to use him after the war to control Japan.
Virtually all the major military figures are now on record publicly, most of them almost immediately after the war, which is kind of amazing when you think about it, saying the bombing was totally unnecessary. Eisenhower said it on a number of occasions. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs said it—that was Admiral Leahy, who was also chief of staff to the president. Curtis LeMay, who was in charge of the conventional bombing of Japan, [also said it]. They’re all public statements. It’s remarkable that the top military leaders would go public, challenging the president’s decision within weeks after the war, some within months. Really, when you even think about it, can you imagine it today? It’s almost impossible to think of it.
Had the United States ever wanted the Russians to come in?  ... continued

21 May 2016

Is Nazism a One-of-a-Kind Historical Curiosity?


In the attached essay, Uri Avnery raises the specter of mutant Nazism emerging in Israel.  Avnery is no lightweight.  Going strong at the age of 92, Avnery was a child in Germany when the Nazis were taking over.  He and his family emigrated to Palestine in 1933.  
Today, Avnery (bio) is Israel’s most respected peace advocate; he is also a prolific writer, a former member of the Knesset, a hero of the 1948 War, and before that a member of the Irgun terrorist organization (from which he resigned in disillusionment over the Irgun’s murderous tactics in 1942).  First and foremost, he is an Israeli patriot.
If a man with this kind of background can see a variant of the scourge that destroyed Germany as an emergent possibility for Israel, how can one say another variation is not a possibility for the United States, given the parlous state of contemporary domestic American politics and militarization of American foreign policy and the accompanying permanent war economy?
Avnery’s essay is worthy of careful study and contemplation.

I Was There 
Uri Avnery, May 21, 2016
"PLEASE DON'T write about Ya'ir Golan!" a friend begged me, “Anything a leftist like you writes will only harm him!"
So I abstained for some weeks. But I can't keep quiet any longer.
General Ya'ir Golan, the deputy Chief of Staff of the Israeli army, made a speech on Holocaust Memorial Day. Wearing his uniform, he read a prepared, well-considered text that triggered an uproar which has not yet died down.
Dozens of articles have been published in its wake, some condemning him, some lauding him. Seems that nobody could stay indifferent.
The main sentence was: "If there is something that frightens me about the memories of the Holocaust, it is the knowledge of the awful processes which happened in Europe in general, and in Germany in particular, 70, 80, 90 years ago, and finding traces of them here in our midst, today, in 2016."
All hell broke loose. What!!! Traces of Nazism in Israel? A resemblance between what the Nazis did to us with what we are doing to the Palestinians?
90 years ago was 1926, one of the last years of the German republic. 80 years ago was 1936, three years after the Nazis came to power. 70 years ago was 1946, on the morrow of Hitler's suicide and the end of the Nazi Reich.
I FEEL compelled to write about the general's speech after all, because I was there.
As a child I was an eye-witness to the last years of the Weimar Republic (so called because its constitution was shaped in Weimar, the town of Goethe and Schiller). As a politically alert boy I witnessed the Nazi Machtergreifung ("taking power") and the first half a year of Nazi rule.
I know what Golan was speaking about. Though we belong to two different generations, we share the same background. Both our families come from small towns in Western Germany. His father and I must have had a lot in common.
There is a strict moral commandment in Israel: nothing can be compared to the Holocaust. The Holocaust is unique. It happened to us, the Jews, because we are unique. (Religious Jews would add: "Because God has chosen us".)
I have broken this commandment. Just before Golan was born, I published (in Hebrew) a book called "The Swastika", in which I recounted my childhood memories and tried to draw conclusions from them. It was on the eve of the Eichmann trial, and I was shocked by the lack of knowledge about the Nazi era among young Israelis then.
My book did not deal with the Holocaust, which took place when I was already living in Palestine, but with a question which troubled me throughout the years, and even today: how could it happen that Germany, perhaps the most cultured nation on earth at the time, the homeland of Goethe, Beethoven and Kant, could democratically elect a raving psychopath like Adolf Hitler as its leader?
The last chapter of the book was entitled "It Can Happen Here!" The title was drawn from a book by the American novelist Sinclair Lewis, called ironically "It Can't Happen Here", in which he described a Nazi take-over of the United States.
In this chapter I discussed the possibility of a Jewish Nazi-like party coming to power in Israel. My conclusion was that a Nazi party can come to power in any country on earth, if the conditions are right. Yes, in Israel, too.
The book was largely ignored by the Israeli public, which at the time was overwhelmed by the storm of emotions evoked by the terrible disclosures of the Eichmann trial.
Now comes General Golan, an esteemed professional soldier, and says the same thing.
And not as an improvised remark, but on an official occasion, wearing his general's uniform, reading from a prepared, well thought-out text.
The storm broke out, and has not passed yet.
ISRAELIS HAVE a self-protective habit: when confronted with inconvenient truths, they evade its essence and deal with a secondary, unimportant aspect. Of all the dozens and dozens of reactions in the written press, on TV and on political platforms, almost none confronted the general's painful contention.
No, the furious debate that broke out concerns the questions: Is a high-ranking army officer allowed to voice an opinion about matters that concern the civilian establishment? And do so in army uniform? On an official occasion?
Should an army officer keep quiet about his political convictions? Or voice them only in closed sessions - "in relevant forums", as a furious Binyamin Netanyahu phrased it?
General Golan enjoys a very high degree of respect in the army. As Deputy Chief of Staff he was until now almost certainly a candidate for Chief of Staff, when the incumbent leaves the office after the customary four years.
The fulfillment of this dream shared by every General Staff officer is now very remote. In practice, Golan has sacrificed his further advancement in order to utter his warning and giving it the widest possible resonance.
One can only respect such courage. I have never met General Golan, I believe, and I don't know his political views. But I admire his act.
(Somehow I recall an article published by the British magazine Punch before World War I, when a group of junior army officers issued a statement opposing the government's policy in Ireland. The magazine said that while disapproving the opinion expressed by the mutinous officers, it took pride in the fact that such youthful officers were ready to sacrifice their careers for their convictions.)
THE NAZI march to power started in 1929, when a terrible world-wide economic crisis hit Germany. A tiny, ridiculous far-right party suddenly became a political force to be reckoned with. From there it took them four years to become the largest party in the country and to take over power (though it still needed a coalition).
I was there when it happened, a boy in a family in which politics became the main topic at the dinner table. I saw how the republic broke down, gradually, slowly, step by step. I saw our family friends hoisting the swastika flag. I saw my high-school teacher raising his arm when entering the class and saying "Heil Hitler" for the first time (and then reassuring me in private that nothing had changed.)
I was the only Jew in the entire gymnasium (high school.) When the hundreds of boys – all taller than I – raised their arms to sing the Nazi anthem, and I did not, they threatened to break my bones if it happened again. A few days later we left Germany for good.
General Golan was accused of comparing Israel to Nazi Germany. Nothing of the sort. A careful reading of his text shows that he compared developments in Israel to the events that led to the disintegration of the Weimar Republic. And that is a valid comparison.
Things happening in Israel, especially since the last election, bear a frightening similarity to those events. True, the process is quite different. German fascism arose from the humiliation of surrender in World War I, the occupation of the Ruhr by France and Belgium from 1923-25, the terrible economic crisis of 1929, the misery of millions of unemployed. Israel is victorious in its frequent military actions, we live comfortable lives. The dangers threatening us are of a quite different nature. They stem from our victories, not from our defeats.
Indeed, the differences between Israel today and Germany then are far greater than the similarities. But those similarities do exist, and the general was right to point them out.
The discrimination against the Palestinians in practically all spheres of life can be compared to the treatment of the Jews in the first phase of Nazi Germany. (The oppression of the Palestinians in the occupied territories resembles more the treatment of the Czechs in the "protectorate" after the Munich betrayal.)
The rain of racist bills in the Knesset, those already adopted and those in the works, strongly resembles the laws adopted by the Reichstag in the early days of the Nazi regime. Some rabbis call for a boycott of Arab shops. Like then. The call "Death to the Arabs" ("Judah verrecke"?) is regularly heard at soccer matches. A member of parliament has called for the separation between Jewish and Arab newborns in hospital. A Chief Rabbi has declared that Goyim (non-Jews) were created by God to serve the Jews. Our Ministers of Education and Culture are busy subduing the schools, theater and arts to the extreme rightist line, something known in German as Gleichschaltung. The Supreme Court, the pride of Israel, is being relentlessly attacked by the Minister of Justice. The Gaza Strip is a huge ghetto.
Of course, no one in their right mind would even remotely compare Netanyahu to the Fuehrer, but there are political parties here which do emit a strong fascist smell. The political riffraff peopling the present Netanyahu government could easily have found their place in the first Nazi government.
One of the main slogans of our present government is to replace the "old elite", considered too liberal, with a new one. One of the main Nazi slogans was to replace "das System".
BY THE WAY, when the Nazis came to power, almost all high-ranking officers of the German army were staunch anti-Nazis. They were even considering a putsch against Hitler . Their political leader was summarily executed a year later, when Hitler liquidated his opponents in his own party. We are told that General Golan is now protected by a personal bodyguard, something that has never happened to a general in the annals of Israel.
The general did not mention the occupation and the settlements, which are under army rule. But he did mention the episode which occurred shortly before he gave this speech, and which is still shaking Israel now: in occupied Hebron, under army rule, a soldier saw a seriously wounded Palestinian lying helplessly on the ground, approached him and killed him with a shot to the head. The victim had tried to attack some soldiers with a knife, but did not constitute a threat to anyone any more. This was a clear contravention of army standing orders, and the soldier has been hauled before a court martial.
A cry went up around the country: the soldier is a hero! He should be decorated! Netanyahu called his father to assure him of his support. Avigdor Lieberman entered the crowded courtroom in order to express his solidarity with the soldier. A few days later Netanyahu appointed Lieberman as Minister of Defense, the second most important office in Israel.
Before that, General Golan received robust support both from the Minister of Defense, Moshe Ya'alon, and the Chief of Staff, Gadi Eisenkot. Probably this was the immediate reason for the kicking out of Ya'alon and the appointment of Lieberman in his place. It resembled a putsch.
It seems that Golan is not only a courageous officer, but a prophet, too. The inclusion of Lieberman's party in the government coalition confirms Golan's blackest fears. This is another fatal blow to the Israeli democracy.

Am I condemned to witness the same process for the second time in my life?

13 May 2016

Donald Trump’s Unsurprising Surprise


Exclusive: Donald Trump’s ascension to the Republican presidential nomination was predictable, paved by years of right-wing fear-mongering and dissemination of anti-knowledge, says former GOP congressional staffer Mike Lofgren.
By Mike Lofgren, Consortium News, May 12, 2016
{Additional background information describing Mike's important corpus of work can be found at this link}
A lot of pundits have egg on their faces. Nate Cohn recently issued a mea culpa in the New York Times confessing his underestimation of Donald Trump. The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank has even had to make good on his bet that he would literally eat his words if the real estate mogul were nominated.
As late as September 2015, esteemed numbers whiz Nate Silver was telling us that Trump had a 5 percent chance of winning the Republican nomination. Déjà vu: as with the awful consequences of invading Iraq or selling no-documentation mortgages to indigent homebuyers, most of our designated experts didn’t see it coming.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump in an MSNBC interview.
My experience with GOP politics was a bit more up-close and personal than that of most pundits. For 28 years, I worked on Capitol Hill as a Republican staffer. The 2008 selection of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as vice presidential candidate was embarrassing enough to me, but once the congressional GOP appeared eager to drive the country into a debt default in 2011, I decided to leave and become a political independent.
By that point it seemed plausible to me that Trump – or someone similar – was likely if not inevitable. Although conservative ideologues denounce him for being doctrinally impure, he is the logical culmination of deeper psychological trends both in the party and the broader American culture that I have observed over the years.
Since the demise of the Fairness Doctrine in 1987, the Conservative Media-Entertainment Complex – Rush Limbaugh, Fox News, and all the rest – has poisoned the well of civic engagement with rancor, scapegoating and pessimism about the state of the nation. These self-styled super-patriots seem to get a thrill from talking down the country, and if you add up all the groups they condemn, their targets probably constitute a majority of the U.S. population.
This cultural pessimism was an ingredient in the makeup of fascist movements during the Twentieth Century: enemies are at our borders; the deadliest enemy is within; the nation will collapse if we don’t purge subversive elements.
As film maker Jen Senko has documented, a steady diet of Fox News alarmism can make viewers angry, paranoid and irrational. With that kind of conditioning, is it any wonder that many Republicans are susceptible to Trump’s description of the world’s foremost economic and military power – us – as “weak” and “pathetic?”
Deliberate Obstruction
A related cause of Trump’s rise is the GOP’s political strategy, which only deepens the pessimism that Republican media have fanned. Gridlock, filibusters, government shutdowns, playing chicken with the debt limit: they all reinforce the belief that the country is ungovernable.
A senior Republican Capitol Hill staffer once explained to me – approvingly – that it was a conscious strategy to create gridlock and lower the public approval of Congress. These alleged worshippers of the Constitution would cripple and discredit the branch of government that is the first and arguably premier institution listed in that document.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky.
Republicans have attempted to repeal Obamacare 62 times, but for the last six years we have been waiting in vain for the Republican health care plan to replace it. When they do not have undisputed control of government (and we have seen the fiscal and human disasters unleashed when they have dominated Kansas, Louisiana, and Michigan), the GOP is determined to seize up the gears.
Abraham Lincoln’s accusation against the antebellum slavocracy applies: “Your purpose, then, plainly stated, is that you will destroy the Government . . . You will rule or ruin in all events.”
If this is the new politics-as-usual, who can blame people for supporting an imperious outsider who promises to break the deadlock by knocking heads together? Trumpism was brewed in the kitchen of Mitch McConnell, the senator who vowed to derail Obama’s presidency.
I have written before about the GOP’s contribution to anti-knowledge in our society. As Nineteenth-Century humorist Josh Billings put it, “The trouble with people is not that they don’t know, but that they know so much that ain’t so.”
Despite three decades of evidence that tax cuts do not pay for themselves, Republican politicians hew to that line with dogmatic persistence. A couple of millennia of history ought to have taught us that invasions of the Middle East are not likely to go well, but the GOP was gung-ho about Iraq and questioned the patriotism of skeptics.
Many in the Republican base believe with a faith that transcends evidence that Obamacare authorizes death panels just as Obama himself is Kenyan born. Under those circumstances, why should it surprise us when Trump promises $12 trillion in tax cuts while eliminating the $19-trillion national debt in eight years, or claims that Ted Cruz’s father was involved in the Kennedy assassination?
Anti-knowledge is virulent in the GOP, but it is a problem in the larger society as well. A study by the journal Science polled on public attitudes about evolution in the United States, 32 European countries, Turkey and Japan; the only country where acceptance of evolution was lower than in ours was Islamic Turkey. States like Louisiana mandate that public schools teach the bogus “controversy” about evolution.
This epistemic closure, whereby facts are a matter of political opinion, threatens not only the country’s future scientific preeminence, but our ability to have rational discussions about public policy. Trump’s rise is a fire bell in the night warning us of a dangerous cultural development.
Fear and Authoritarianism
For the past 15 years, the people who constitute our bipartisan elite consensus – politicians, generals, media personalities, think-tank experts – have been dinning into our heads the message that we must be very afraid of terrorism, despite the fact that we are more likely to die slipping in the bathtub than in a terrorist attack. It has worked.
Voters in the Republican primary in South Carolina, where Trump won in a walk, declared terrorism their foremost concern, eclipsing a low-wage economy, deteriorating living standards leading to an increase in the death rate of GOP voters’ core demographic, and the most expensive and least available health care in the developed world.
Talk-radio host Rush Limbaugh
The fear that our elite consensus fostered has awakened the latent authoritarianism and paranoia that lurk in all too many ordinary people. This dynamic explains why Trump’s candidacy took off like a moon rocket in November and December of 2015, the period of the terrorist attack in Paris and the murders in San Bernardino.
Government officials and the media whipped up a mood in the country that approached hysteria; Trump deftly exploited it. By being the only politician brazen enough to openly advocate torture – not merely to gain information (a dubious claim), but to inflict pain for its own sake – he tapped into the revenge fantasies of millions of Americans who have been fed a steady diet of fear since 9/11.
We have deluded ourselves that the United States could be a “normal” country while waging a seemingly endless war on terror. We have likewise believed we could carry on with one of our political parties behaving like an apocalyptic cult, along with our public discourse being polluted by bogus “facts” amplified by ferociously partisan media.
Donald Trump is merely a symptom, not the cause, of these troubling cultural markers. His political ascent, then, is really no surprise, as I sensed when I said “goodbye to all that” on Capitol Hill five years ago.

Mike Lofgren is a former congressional staff member who served on both the House and Senate budget committees. His latest book, The Deep State: The Fall of the Constitution and the Rise of a Shadow Government, appeared in January 2016.